By Josh Smith, Contributing Writer
After finishing last season on a sour note, the West Liberty University softball team is eager and excited to start the season. In 2016, the Toppers sported a record of 13-41 (6-26 MEC).
The Toppers would have liked the season to end in a different fashion, but they hope to carry over the frustration from last year to begin this season on a good note.
After the conclusion of the 2016 season, the Toppers were down to only ten players on the team, meaning there was only the opportunity for one player to be on the bench at any given time. With such low numbers, head coach Herb Minch knew he needed to heavily recruit in the off-season.
“With the roster down to ten after the spring semester, talent and bodies were needed,” Minch said. “The roster is now at 22, and the pitching staff is at five; we are also two deep at most positions, creating a more competitive atmosphere.”
Coach Minch also knew that another change needed to be made besides just adding faces to the team.
“Elevating the conditioning and strengthening of each player via some new concepts with different professionals was important,” Minch said. “Generating a renewed interest with the returning players to elevate their level of play was key as well.”
Some of those returning players are seniors Damia Mogielski, Kylee Ensign, and Nicki Mihalik. With a limited number of returning players, coach Minch has relied on these three seniors tremendously as they have been starters for the past three years.
“I believe my main personal goal matches the goal of the team and the coaches,” Mogielski said. “That is simply to succeed. We want to change the history of this program and take Coach Herb back to the conference championship, and give him the chance to hold another trophy.”
“I am looking forward to seeing all of our hard work we have put in thus far translate into successful results this spring,” Mihalik said. “This year is an opportunity for this program to really begin to turn a new leaf, and I am thrilled that I am here to be a part of it.”
The players are not the only ones eager to start the new season and see the hard work shine; Coach Minch is as well, and he hopes to see improvements on both offense and defense.
“Last year, the pitching staff was basically a one person show,” Minch said. “I think Savanna can be much more effective with four others pushing and helping her. Improvements on hitting from both the returners and newcomers is another thing I’m looking forward to seeing.”
In the 29 regular-season games the Toppers will play this season, Mihalik is looking forward to one game in particular.
“I’d have to say I’m most looking forward to playing Jesuit,” Mihalik said. “Of course because they are our rival, but even more so because we swept them here on our field in the fall, so I think we have a message to send this spring.”
Of the 22 players on the Toppers’ roster, three seniors, Mogielski, Ensign, and Mihalik, will play in their final season on the hilltop this season. Although the team’s record has not met their overall expectations, being on this team has meant more to them than winning.
“Being on a sports team is not always about the wins and the losses,” Mogielski said. “It is about the times spent in the dugout, in the vans and in the hotels. Those are the moments that last forever.”
“They have been through a tough few years but have hung in there, and with the help of a lot of underclassman this year, they will set their legacy to a whole other level,” Minch said. “I’m not sure they are aware yet of how much they will mold the team for years to come based on their knowledge and expertise over the next two to three months. All three are great students and have been three-year starters, so it will be a tremendous amount of experience lost in May.”
The Toppers open their season tomorrow, March 10 as they travel to Salem, Va. to play in a five-game tournament. Go Toppers!
Photo credit: Hilltoppersports.com